Blaming the Mrs.

Adding Injustice to Injury

Sex scandals and car accidents have much in common—injured parties, public spectacle, and charges hurled every which way amidst an abrupt, life changing tragedy. They both attract and repel us as we drive by, shaking our disapproving heads even as we crane our necks to see more. It’s been, in fact, a bit of a national pastime, this business of surveying the wreckage, whether it’s the aftermath of the 1987 PTL scandal or our former President’s ill advised encounters with an intern.

Small wonder, then, that former Governor Spitzer’s use of prostitutes, Tiger Woods‘ philandering, John Edwards‘ affair, and Ted Haggard’s liaisons with a male prostitute continue to fascinate the American public, often relegating much weightier world events to Page 2.

But in recent years a wrinkle was added to the fuss when a prominent talk show host and advice-giver appearing on the Today Show had this to say about wives whose husband’s have committed adultery:

“When the wife does not focus in on the needs and the feelings, sexually, personally, to make him feel like a man, to make him feel like a success, to make him feel like her hero, he’s very susceptible to the charm of some other woman making him feel what he needs. The cheating was his decision to repair what’s damaged, and to feed himself where he’s starving.”

Whew! The Mrs. didn’t try hard enough, so the malnourished man simply had to locate another partner who’d provide a bit of supplemental hero worship. The predictable outrage from talking heads and the general public following these comments indicate that many of us simply aren’t buying the notion that, if the husband strays, the wife’s the villain.

But truth be told, the myth of an adulterer’s wife being somehow responsible for her husband’s sin is painfully common. I’ve seen it repeatedly as couples, shattered by indiscretion, have come to my office asking who’s to bless or blame. Often, to the Church’s shame, wives have been told by Christian family members, friends, and, yes, pastors, that their shortcomings as women contributed to, if not caused, their husband’s downfall.

The question thus shifts in a woman’s  mind from “Why did he do wrong?” to “What did I do wrong?” A couple of sadly misguided conclusions the wife comes to look something like this:

“I must not be attractive enough for him.”

“If I were less like this or more like that, would he still have cheated on me?” This is a question often coming from the wife who caught her husband looking at porn—a wife who’s seen first hand the type of women he privately ogles. Or perhaps she compares herself to the call girl, stripper or masseuse her husband dallies with—the surgically enhanced body in the exotic outfits—and cries “uncle,” assuming she can’t hope to compete.

Yet one remembers the ghastly murder of actress Sharon Tate, the stunningly beautiful wife of director Roman Polanski, at the hands of the Charles Manson cult. After her death Polanski publicly admitted to frequent adulteries with numerous partners, all the while asserting his love for Sharon and praising both her beauty and tenderness as a wife. Clearly, one couldn’t impugn the looks of Miss Tate (one of the most exquisite figures Hollywood ever featured) because of Polanski’s behavior. Nor should anyone, especially a betrayed spouse, assume a wife’s appearance can either prevent or contribute to an adulterous act. Adultery, in short, is more a statement of what a man is rather than what his wife isn’t.

“I wasn’t attentive enough to him, so he cheated.”

Let’s not too hastily dismiss the first half of the statement. In fact, let me get this off my chest before going any further: Some wives are indeed getting away with murder.

Not all. Most, I believe, are loving, strong partners in grace with their men. But I’ve seen more than a few Christian ladies grow comfortable screaming at their husbands, undermining them to their children, humiliating them in public, complaining regularly about their real or perceived shortcomings, and, in general, treating them like dirt. Their husbands, in turn, are expected to obey Paul’s admonishment to “Love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” But just try quoting the other half of that command—“Wives, submit to your husbands” —and watch the outrage at such an archaic, sexist notion.

That said, let’s not unduly muddy the waters. The wife who is inattentive, indifferent or downright abusive is responsible for her sins, not his. No woman, no matter how odious, makes her man commit adultery, so if a wife sins, let her account. But let her account for her sins alone.

That’s a fairly big if, though, considering the many women who’ve shown more than reasonable affection and concern for their spouses who cheated nonetheless. King David, for example, had countless wives and concubines at his disposal when he committed his notorious adultery with Bathsheba. Does anyone really believe a harem of palace wives and concubines didn’t know how to show the King all due attention? And what constitutes “enough attention” anyway? None of us, in moments of brutal honesty, will deny we at times wish for more love, notice, or affection from our spouses. But will any of us then have the chutzpah to conclude we’re entitled to sin because we feel sinned against?

The wreckage of the Wood’s, Haggard’s, and Edward’s crises is still being cleared, and time will tell how effectively they repair the damage. But should the guilty husband involved decide to apply himself to restoring trust with his bruised wife, then his work is surely cut out for him.

  • He’ll need to acknowledge the nature of his betrayal, making no excuses, no rationalizations.
  • He’ll need to express due remorse, showing The Mrs. he not only recognizes his failure, but privately feels ongoing pain over it as well.
  • He’ll need to then give her room to express her own pain, allowing him an education in the emotional holocaust a woman experiences when her man violates her in such an intimate yet cruelly public way.
  • And he’ll surely need to establish some structure of accountability and treatment by which he can assure her this behavior will never be repeated.

Meanwhile, let’s suspend public speculations about what role (if any) this injured woman had in the agony she’s enduring. Let the sinner repent and the system exercise fairness in its judgment. Let the Church be a healing agent, and let the prayers of believers everywhere continue for all involved, thus refraining from adding insult, much less injustice, to such a devastating and needless injury.